Jonathan Slavin: Better Off Out
BY Brandon Voss
April 21 2009 12:00 AM ET
Have you actively gone after gay roles?
I have actively sought after some gay roles that I haven't even been able to get seen for because they've said, "It's not that kind of gay; we want Brokeback Mountain gay, so we're only seeing straight guys." The industry thinks that in order to make a gay character palatable, it has to be gentrified. I love playing gay characters because gay characters are safer with gay actors than they are with straight actors. We can be more trusted to handle them. If someone said to me, "You can play nothing but gay people the rest of your life" — after Better Off Ted completes its seven-year run, of course — I would say, "That's great. I'm happy to do that."
You memorably played gay in the 2005 indie Hard Pill, in which your character participates in a scientific study for a new drug that turns gay men straight.
They had started that project a year before with a straight actor that they just loved, but a couple of weeks into the project he actually said, "I think you need to reconsider me, because I don't get this. This doesn't make sense to me." They went back to the drawing board, and I just happened to audition. They asked me if I understood the material, and I was like, "Uh, do I understand a plain-looking middle-aged gay guy? Yeah, I think I got it."
You played a new gay dad in Inconceivable, which was canceled after only two episodes. Did that experience influence your decision to raise a menagerie of pets instead of children?
I had some moments on Inconceivable where I was like, "This is great!" But then I'd be holding a baby who would start to get upset, so they'd bring me its sleeping, docile twin and switch it out, and I don't think that's what parenthood is really like. I love kids, but I have to be honest: I am that person at a dinner party who's a little relieved when the kids go to bed. Michael and I have talked about adopting an older child or a sibling set that's been stuck in the system, but babies are not that interesting to me. They don't really do much.
On Summerland, you portrayed an HIV-positive gay man, which seemed gutsy for a series on the WB network geared to a young demographic.
With Summerland I was so excited because I was coming on to this existing series, and it was one of the nicest groups of actors I've ever had the pleasure of working with. I continue to worship Lori Loughlin as a goddess. What's weird is that I played this gay character, and on my first episode I had this whole speech I say to her character because I'm trying to get her to life her life: "According to the best doctors of our time, I should be dead right now... You wake up in a hospital with a priest giving you last rites... And that's why I live the way that I live..." So Lori and I talked that day about how amazing it was that they were putting an HIV-positive character on a WB show. I saw some of the fan pages where people were either talking about how great it was to see an HIV-positive character or complaining, "Of course they introduce this flaming gay guy and the first thing he says is that he has AIDS." So the show folded right after I did some press for the California AIDS Ride about playing this character. Then I ran into the showrunner, who was like, "Oh, no, that speech wasn't about HIV. We didn't want to get specific, but in our heads he had survived a car accident." I told Lori that, and she said, "Well, that seems a little naive." If you have a gay guy my age talking about facing death, you're going to think it's an HIV issue. But I played it like it was HIV, so I'm glad I didn't know that. If they had thrown in a line about a car accident, I would've absolutely fought it, and then I probably wouldn't have gotten to do as many episodes as I did.